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How are you coping with world chaos?

So the world is going to hell in a hand-basket it seems.

How are you coping with the current flavour of world chaos?

how to cope with world chaos mary kastle bowen island jazz pop folk soul singer-songwriterNot to make light of it of course. It’s dismal out there and the news seems to keep getting worse, doesn’t it?

But more than ever, I feel we need to be diligent. We are sensitive creative beings and just because there’s a lot of noise right now, it shouldn’t be permission for us to lose our bearings as individuals. Especially when we have information about “shock events” deliberately created to throw us off. It’s up to us to stay grounded and build up our emotional resilience, right?

It’s almost too easy to feel depressed, angry, or totally numb from helplessness. Bell now has a mental health campaign (#bellletstalk) encouraging people to talk openly about mental illness. But let’s face it, who isn’t depressed on some level? Beyond protesting and being well-informed, there’s little any of us can physically do to change the course of events. So we sit with all this info and spin ourselves into anxious circles. We check social media more than we should, and wonder not when shit is going to hit the fan, but when is shit going to hit OUR fan. I think a raised stress level in these precarious times is actually a sign of good mental health! Your gut is telling you something is very wrong and that is 100% true.   

So while pondering how to fix it is a noble thought, a better question might be “how am I going to cope with all this chaos?”

Because I don’t think shutting down is an option, and I hope you don’t think it’s one either. And thinking about the next glass of wine, obsessing over the playoffs, or zoning out on Netflix, are just other versions of that, aren’t they? Like it or not, the world needs us to rise up to the challenge of letting our lights shine. Joni said it best, “We are stardust, we are golden.”

Creating a plan or strategy for coping

You probably know by now that my strategy for coping involves a few things – meditation, journaling, making music, writing blogs (and soon-to-be books!), using mantras and affirmations, and consciously attempting to deal with my own demons so I don’t feel so threatened by everyone else’s.

To some that might feel like a lot of work. What a commitment! And yes it is, but I’m lucky that I know my demons so well at this point that there is more joy from the process than emotional turmoil. It’s very similar to exercise, way harder when you’re out of shape.

Others might be ready to dive into their own exploration but wonder just how much they need to do. They might say, “Well, I went on one retreat last spring.” Or “I did some acupuncture back in 2008.”

Well, in my experience, dabbling in self-help and alternative therapy is a step on the path to self-knowledge, but if you really want that combo to work for you, you need to dive in and test, test, test. You need to try a lot of things and work at it every day in some capacity before things really start to click. Then with a lot of pieces working together, eventually magic will start to happen. You will KNOW when it really starts to work for you because everything in your life will feel very different and not so difficult.

We are connected, like it or not

People complain about how social media and the internet is ruining us. But in my experience after meditating every day for 2.5 years and constantly facing fears and unpacking my baggage, I feel the complete opposite. I feel so connected to everyone and the life force itself that I don’t even need to open my mouth that much! (Though I do anyways…lol.) I feel you out there going through your stuff and that it’s hard and that we are very similar in so many ways. I hear how much people are suffering and how much we need to cultivate inner strength and resilience to confidently OWN our voices and paths in life. So many of us are afraid to show our true colours, but maybe it’s because we don’t have the tools to shape our colours in ways that will intrigue people rather than scare them away. Maybe it’s actually a skill gap.

Some will inevitably argue that it’s #whiteprivilege or #canadianprivilege that we have the opportunity to meditate and journal and face inner demons while millions are dealing with external ones that are very real and scary. I could use that as an excuse to bury my head in the sand. But what I really want to do is use that privilege and put it to good use.

So, think about it – how are you coping with world chaos?

Do you have a plan or a strategy so world chaos doesn’t blindside you and leave you helpless, anxious, frightened, and dreadful of the future? What can you do in your life to carve out a bit of space to remember that we’re not only wired for connection – we ARE connected, like it or not. How will you stay vulnerable and express yourself to your political leaders, neighbours, partner, kids, in a way that is non-violent? Will you create? Meditate? Connect with others? Volunteer? Protest? Whatever you choose it takes PRACTICE. Take a minute to think about it and write it down.

Your mental health matters. Your experience on Earth matters. And there has never been a more important time to make your spirit a priority. If it feels scary, that’s ok, because it IS scary, but it’s a fear that is totally worth facing. Just remember, the deeper the wound, the bigger the growth. 

How to start a daily meditation practice

daily meditation practice mary kastle music jazz folk soul pop vancouver bc canadaOne of the biggest life improvements I’ve made in the past few years has been a daily meditation practice. It’s changed my life so profoundly, I want to tell you about it in case you’re curious about meditation or have dabbled in it and want to commit but haven’t found the will or discipline to maintain it yet.

Our beginnings

It all started in the fall of 2014. Before that I’d attended a couple of 10-day Vipassana retreats and did the occasional sit on my own, but that was about it. I couldn’t seem to carve out 30 minutes a day when there were SO MANY OTHER THINGS to do. (Right??) Oh yeah, and we had a two-year old to contend with too! 😉

mary kastle music vancouver bc meditating with kids singer songwriter jazz folk pop soul

Here’s a photo Leo snapped of me meditating with the kids. Nothing like a few thousand interruptions to strengthen that focus! 😉

I have my husband (Leo) to thank. He was in the midst of changing jobs and decided he wanted to get more grounded spiritually so he could make wise decisions going forward (ever the wise person he is!). He came upon an intro course called “Passage Meditation” and once he finished it he announced he would start getting up 30 minutes earlier every morning to meditate. I laughed in his face! No way was he going to do that with all the parenting chaos we had going on at the time. Well, I sure ate my words! He did do it and not only that, but I couldn’t believe the change in him over the next couple months. He seemed so much more calm and thoughtful… All I could think was “I gotta get me some of that!”

I don’t know if I could have jumped into a daily practice so quickly if I hadn’t had someone modelling for me how to do it and all the benefits of maintaining it. [On that note, I would highly recommend finding someone you can use as a mentor or cheerleader until your own practice is established. It really helps!!]

Passage Meditation

We both still practice Passage Meditation today because quite frankly it’s very simple, highly customizable, and totally suited to modern day times. Here’s the premise – you choose some passages or texts that inspire you and you recite them in your mind. That’s it! The idea here is that although it’s great and profound to focus on your breath, our noisy busy lives make it so hard to slow down enough to actually focus on those things! If we give the mind something simple to hang on to and guide it through we’ll be able to build our focus much more successfully.

What texts to use? 

This practice has been around for eons, but was made popular by Eknath Easwaran who wrote a book called “Passage Meditation” and contains all the instructions to get started. What kinds of texts to use? He recommends sacred texts because they’ve stood the test of time (any religious tradition is fine), but if that’s not your cup of tea then anything inspiring or motivational will do. It’s important that it resonates with you! I love this because it’s like music. You can create your own little repertoire of passages to learn (I keep mine in a special journal) and it becomes your signature set.

And here’s where it starts to change your life. As you recite these passages in your mind, they gradually sink into your subconscious and as you go about your days, the words will start to come back to you (usually when you’re hitting roadblocks in your life) and become like guiding principles in your life.

There’s a lot of research now proving that meditation can change your brain, through increased focus and rewiring neural pathways to change your thought patterns. Passage meditation is a very direct and intentional way to do that because you’re literally reprogramming your brain with the passages you memorize. If there are specific issues you want to work through you can even choose passages on those themes.

But even more so, maintaining a daily practice has actually cultivated in me a much stronger connection with the Divine and my own spirit, which I realize now was deeply lacking in my life. It’s hard to even put into words how much comfort that’s brought me over the years… But that’s a subject for a whole other blog post!

In the meantime, if you’re curious about meditation and/or want to start a daily practice but feel intimidated, consider picking up Easwaran’s book (I get no kick back, I’m just a fan!).

And here are a few tips I’ve learned that make it easier to keep going once the initial momentum wears off.

1 – Use a timer! (The one on your phone will do fine) It frees up your mind to truly focus on the meditation and forget about how long it’s taking. Some days it will fly by and some days it will drag on eternally, and oddly enough it always ends up being the same duration. 🙂

2 – Be (somewhat) flexible with yourself. If you are really hustling to get out the door one morning, allow yourself to sit for 20 minutes instead of 30. Or even 15. But most days, try to do 30. You will come to love and cherish that time on the cushion. But any minutes are better than no minutes when life starts to go sideways.

3 – Be inspired. Allow the vast repertoire of spiritual traditions to inspire you in choosing your passages! I recite everything from Christian prayers to passages from the Bhagavad Gita to Rumi poems!

4 – Keep a journal. You will no doubt have a lot of insights along the way about different things that come up in your meditations. It’s great to document these so you can look back for reference and/or dig into them further. Prepare yourself for some breakthroughs around old patterns, habits, or thoughts!

5 – Easwaran recommends furthering your practice by doing some spiritual reading before you go to sleep. At first I thought this was a bit of overkill, but after trying it out I can see the value now. If you are meditating in the morning, the spiritual reading at night grounds you before drifting off to sleep. Also, reinforcing those positive messages can have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep.

I hope these little tips will help you find your way on your own spiritual path!

The inspiration behind the “King of My Heart” song and video

I hope you’ve had a chance to listen to the song online! I thought you might enjoy a little peek into the inspiration behind the song and the video.

It started off as a half-assed joke. Years ago, before we were married, my husband told me about a sweet Jamaican couple he’d known in Toronto who were fond of using the pet names “My King” and “My Queen” (in strong Jamaican accents no less).

I didn’t want to be a killjoy, but every feminist fibre of my being (of which there are many) immediately got all in a snuff. “My whaaaaat????” I yelped.  I simply could NOT imagine calling any man “my King”. Gaah, it just felt so…. WRONG. I mean, here we’ve done decades of work as women to undo the patriarchal system and this woman was willing to proverbially lay herself down before her man and bow to his honour? [Sure, he was using the same term of endearment with her, but somehow that didn’t seem so out of line. Lol. ;)]

But then a few years later I had my son and suddenly the emotional earthquake that is motherhood rocked me to the core. I was absolutely floored by the LOVE this tiny being brought into my life. And not only was it my JOB to keep him alive, but I was so incredibly willing and joyful to take on the responsibility of putting him above all else. At last, I knew what it was like to be so willingly subservient and to put everything aside to serve another. I had found the king of my heart.

And he did more than simply steal my heart. He gave me an opportunity to look beyond my small little self and get a glimpse of the big wild future. It’s like the whole cycle of life just locked into high gear in my consciousness and I could see a million future generations carrying the torch for humanity. And I truly wanted him to own his position of authority in his own life and write his destiny.

I originally conceived the video it as a collection of ‘selfies’ of a mama watching her child grow up through her phone. We hummed and hawed about using a real baby and how we would make it feel more artsy than a home video. I decided to make a mock-up to test the concept and see how it looked on screen and I happened to grab a floppy toy giraffe. When we saw it bouncing around on screen, we immediately realized that using some kind of toy would be way more symbolic and funny than a real human. So we decided to leverage my sewing skills to build a muppet and harness Leo’s puppeteering experience. Cam (from Turtlebox Productions) who did all the filming and editing immediately had great ideas about ageing the puppet over time and pulling together a whole narrative with the piece.

It was a long and fun journey to record the song and make the video, almost two years in the making! So many incredibly talented people were involved. I hope you enjoy the fruits of our labours! 🙂

Feeling empty? Maybe you’re suffering from “monetization exhaustion”.

Mary Kastle singer songwriter musician vancouver bowen island bc canada piano voice jazz folk soul popA few years ago, I hit a big wall in my music career. Looking back, I think it was “monetization exhaustion”. Don’t get me wrong, I aim to make a great living from my music as much as the next gal. But I found that brazenly pursuing the creative path, in an industry that itself was falling apart, drained every last drop of passion out of my “passion”.

The trouble is we’re so inundated with messages that we need to capitalize on our every creative impulse, that it can be hard to separate our calling from the noise. I know I’m not the only artist who feels this way. “If I hear the word ‘monetize’ one more time…” was a comment I read recently on a blog post promoting Blink 182’s new online platform designed to help musicians cash in on the multitude of profit streams from their careers. It struck me because once again artists are being told by the media that the path to greatness is through making big bucks. Mind you, Blink 182 is cashing in on selling the “dream” to other artists, but what if having a successful music career means more than simply playing arenas and selling t-shirts? How do we incorporate these spiritual aspirations into our balance sheets?

The answer is (in my opinion) – you choose to. At this point it’s an individual process that we will all go through at some point. If you’re lucky enough to have a great teacher to guide you through it, then great! And maybe in a future utopia music education will include developing a personal rubric of values around creativity so every time you’re faced with adversity in your career you can refer back to this foundation for clarity. These are things I’ve had to learn the hard way…

[bctt tweet=”If I hear the word ‘monetize’ one more time… How would you finish that sentence?”]

I think as artists we need to bring this topic to the fore and help each other work it out. Otherwise we get pushed by society to adopt a value system that is out of alignment with our core purpose as musicians. Our integrity is challenged if we follow the money, yet we’re criticized for being bad at business if we renounce it. Looking back, I’ve been the artist so knee-deep in self-promotion I was practically spelling out my Paypal link on stage. It was ugly and it came from a place of complete desperation.

I remember being on tour in Montreal many years ago, passing the hat after the show, and an audience member looked me squarely in the eye and saying “why SHOULD I give you this dollar?”. He was literally holding one effing dollar! This was after I had poured out my soul in song for two hours. Talk about feeling vulnerable and demeaned to the core. Not to mention how truly perplexed I was, knowing I needed to drum up enough for gas to get to the next show. I had neither the business nor spiritual acumen to advocate for my needs in the moment. After all, sacrificing everything for the road is the path to success, right? Not. There are many roads to Eden. Thankfully I realized that finding a better life balance has actually extended my creative life. It’s not exactly rock ’n roll, but it feels kinda sexy in its own subtle way..

On the flip side, I laughed my head off when I saw Rufus Wainwright in concert recently (whom I LOVE – watch my tribute to him here) and in between songs he brought up the topic of his “new app”. At first I was confused. I thought he was telling us about an app he had just downloaded, but then I realized he was talking about HIS app – ie. the Rufus Wainwright app! It is awkward and fascinating to watch artists work the sales pitch on stage. We all have to figure out our own path with it and Rufus was a first class role model – classy, a bit crass, and completely loveable!

The irony is if we constantly raise up “monetizing” to the highest priority, we devalue our artistry by making it all about money. Music’s power is so far beyond anything a dollar could ever represent. By constantly reducing it to these terms we pull down our inner artist from where it wants to live. That doesn’t mean there’s no place for a financial exchange and standing firm on our worth when negotiating gigs. All it means is that we have a more comprehensive value system to know where exactly those bottom lines are.

[bctt tweet=”If we constantly raise up “monetizing”, we devalue our artistry by making it all about money.”]

I’m lucky to be back in a state where I feel jazzed about what the music business has to offer, whatever that looks like. And, “if I hear the word monetize one more time…”, I know now that there is a place for it that is separate from the spiritual value of my music. It’s an exchange for the music I create, but I won’t beat myself up for creating other income streams or diminish my skills and track record as a professional musician. I will hold my music in alignment with my spiritual values as well as my business ones. And that to me is priceless. 🙂

Now it’s your turn. If I hear the word monetize one more time… (tell me in the comments below!)